Is Pettitte greatest Yankees' starter?
Andy Pettitte, greatest Yankees pitcher of all time? We know, we know. It's so ridiculous, you can't even believe we're asking.
But, after Monday night's historic feat, it's at least worth taking a look at the numbers.
First, one qualification — We’re talking starting pitchers. The Yankees’ all-time greatest pitcher is Mariano Rivera. There has never been another lights-out closer over such a long period like Rivera. So, that’s that. Not open for discussion.
But as the starters go, the matter comes up because on Monday night, Pettitte broke Whitey Ford’s club record for career strikeouts. Even with a three-year, self-imposed exile in Houston, Pettitte has struck out 1,958 batters as a Yankee, two more than Ford’s mark.
Wins? Pettitte's close there, too: Pettitte's 213 rankes third behind Ford’s 236 and Red Ruffing’s 231.
Pettitte's career high in wins as a Yankee is 21, which he did twice — his only 20-win seasons in pinstripes. Ford also had just two 20-win seasons, but recorded 25 and 24 wins in those seasons. Another famed southpaw, Lefty Gomez, had four 20-win seasons in the Bronx, including 26 in 1934. Ruffing? He also had four — in a row.
As for 15-win seasons, Pettitte has seven of them as a Yankee. The others? Gomez: 7; Ford: 10; Ruffing: 11.
And we haven’t even mentioned Louisiana Lightning, Ron Guidry — 14 years, three 20-win seasons, six with at least 15 wins.
Guidry also eclipses Pettitte by one in one more category: Cy Young Awards. Guidry, Ford, Roger Clemens, Sparky Lyle and Bob Turley each won one Cy Young Award as a Yankee; Pettitte's best finish was second, in 1996.
But this is the Yankees, and when you talk about Yankees, you talk about rings. Pettitte has five World Series titles, half of Yogi Berra's total. Among starting pitchers, the team record is six, (Ford, Ruffing and Vic Raschi). Gomez and Ed Lopat are tied with Pettitte.
When it comes to ERA, comparisons can be difficult. Ford pitched in the slugging ’50s but into the hitting-challenged ’60s and ended up with a career mark of 2.75. Pettitte faced enhanced sluggers — and admitted enhancing himself, remember? — so his career ERA as a Yankee is nearly 4.00.
All of the other pitchers besides Pettitte played in an era before complete games became a rarity. In 1983, Guidry had nearly as many complete games, 21, as Pettitte has in his entire Yankees career, 23. Ford ended up with 156 of them, Gomez 173, Ruffing a team-record 261.
Clearly, Pettitte's strength is his longevity. He is second in Yankees history in starts by a pitcher with 422 (16 behind Ford). For that matter, he is also fourth in losses, 17 behind Mel Stottlemyre. In his next start, Pettitte should surpass 2,700 innings pitched as a Yankee, third behind Ford and Ruffing. He is also one away from Ford's team record for home runs allowed.
To review, Pettitte's all-time ranking among Yankees starters:
Wins: 3rd (23 from 1st)
Championships: t-4th (1 from 1st)
Starts: 2nd (16 from 1st)
So, where does that leave Pettitte? The greatest Yankees starter ever? That would be a tough sell. But he certainly could at least be a footnote in the conversation. And if he could stick around long enough for another ring and 23 more wins, well, let's have this chat again.